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After so, so many months of inertia and social stasis, it’s our first time back. Our first gig proper after the dreadful storm of a virus left us with nothing but innumerable online acoustic performances from couches across the nations. All wonky angles, dodgy sound and far too many under-nourished Yucca plants.
No, this is what we used to call ‘live music’. It feels important. A moment of comfort and relief, like the feeling you get when the London train crosses the chocolate swell of the Mersey on its way to Lime Street. A homecoming.
Scan QR code to order. The Future Yard stage is bathed in that familiar pink hue we’ve long come to know and trust as ASTLES arrives, tonight a three-piece with a cello and keyboard player. Here is an artist who seems only ever to get better with time, he seems more at home with himself, dare we say more confident? It’s in the voice, the soul he puts in. And it’s reflected in new, soon-to-drop Bill Ryder-Jones-produced single Like A Child, where Astles shows his worth, he’s a wizard of melodic melancholia draped in minor chords and tenderness and this is perhaps his best work yet. Love In November is plaintive and pleading somebody, or maybe nobody, to “come home to warm your bones”. Finishing with another new song, Whatever That Means, means a lot, it turns out, because it shows Astles for the ever-growing force he is.
Some things just work. They’re so obviously bound to be together it may be why they exist in the first place. Life’s natural harmonies, acutely balanced in favour of all. In the moments when MEMORIAL sing together there can be fewer better examples of this. Perfectly pitched soaring harmonies sweep through the room, soft and sweet, fondly reminiscent of local adoptees The Lost Brothers. They confess that this is only their seventh gig, their first tour, as though it’s a bad thing. Their songs and sheer musicality belie the fact that they’re a relatively new act. Latchkey feels like it willed itself to be written in 1971, and Elliott Smith-flavoured Moth To A Flame could be as old as the Appalachians.
Scan QR code to order. When Chartreuse begin, the first sensation is in the pit of the stomach, and the joyous realisation that this is the first time we’ve heard a rhythm section play live for the worst part of two years. And when we say rhythm section, drummer Rory Wagstaff’s pin-sharp, jazz-tinged rhythms are crisper than a Kettle Chip (the sea salt and balsamic ones – we’re not animals), and his colleague in rhythm, the delightfully named Perry Lovering’s basslines aren’t a mere underpinning of the Chartreuse sound. They’re what makes the sense of imagination in it all feel so addictive.
Hailing from Birmingham, but with a distinct Bristolian sound, Chartreuse is a revelatory convergence of folk, jazz, drum and bass, poetry, soul and lilting, or more accurately brooding, melody. There’s something in the space of their sound, something in the empty moments, something dark and wonderful. Harriet Wilson and Michael Wagstaff sing together like they have been for years which, of course, they have. Theirs is another natural balance, at once both delicate and powerful.
They’re here with new material, too, future releases like Only You, with its urgent, desperate to be heard feel, as Michael Wagstaff charges up the through the key changes taking us who knows where? Or Deep Fat, jazzy with a dark, a half-spoken vocal and the stark crack of snare. Keep Checking Up On Me is a veritable modern classic in our view. A haunted introspective, looking for answers, its electric piano more soothing than Mogadon, and Michael Wagstaff’s vocal edged with beautiful burnt soul.
The verses of Woman, I’m Crazy, is stripped back to rimshot sparseness with Harriet Wilson’s folk-jazz vocals floating way above, before the slam of the choruses, all big chords and crashing rhythm. It’s angry, but in a good way. Three Days talk of the confusion of love, words we all know, feelings we’ve all felt, it’s a dreamy swirl of a song, laden with moments. Chartreuse as the first gig back is good by us and, as we head back underground, we reflect.
Finally, live music has a future, and that future may well be in Birkenhead. And not a Yucca plant in sight.